When we first encounter Harold Putterham in Steam Geared, he is walking down a cobblestone street in a respectable commercial district, side by side with his elaborately dressed spouse, Lavinia. He might have looked something like this fellow:
Note how he is clothed in male sartorial splendor from head to heels in the fashion of the late 1880s. His jacket is “cut away” from the old-fashioned frock coat, now labeled a morning coat. The newly popular style sports a narrow-notched collar and deeper slant to the front, with a high top button designed to be worn open, to better display the lower part of his waistcoat (and typically a fashionable watch chain). His square-bottomed waistcoat showing beneath his coat is buttoned up high so that very little of the “bib” of his shirt shows.
His high-waisted trousers are made of a jaunty striped material, cut in the new, more narrow style, breaking just over the instep in front and longer at the heels. The trousers are held up by suspenders or braces, hidden under his vest. In the 1880s, shirts were worn next to the skin, and were close fitting with long tails that covered down to their nether parts. (For many, this made wearing under clothing unnecessary.) Cuffs and collars were starched and fastened to the shirt by means of inconspicuous small buttons or studs.
Boots were more commonly worn than shoes by men of the time period, and half-boots were typically worn under trousers.
Socks and neckwear were available in “wild” patterns at this time, when clothing for males was generally dark and muted in color. Popular colors for menswear in 1888 were black, grays, and fawn brown, sometimes in plaids, checks, and stripes, but gone are the blues, dark greens, and mulberry of yesteryear.
Our gentleman finishes off his elegant attire with relatively sedate bow tie, a pocket handkerchief, and a boutonniere.
Another popular option for men’s suits in 1888 was the sack coat, which we can see in this Carte de Visite photograph of the time:
The sack coat developed as sportswear earlier in the century, but quickly rose to respectable everyday wear by this time. Its relaxed style made it both comfortable and easy to replicate by the up and coming industrialization of clothing manufacture. Note its four buttons, again with only the top button fastened, allowing for the fashionably small exposure of the shirt and tie, yet open below to display the elaborate watch chain clipped to one side of his waistcoat and looped across to the little pocket provided by tailors for the requisite pocket watch.
This X.Y.Z (exquisite) young fellow is dressed for out-of-doors, with his bowler hat, gloves, and walking cane. Note how in this image, the waistcoat and trousers are made of matching material, a small plaid pattern, whereas in the first image, it is the coat and waistcoat that match. If all three parts of a suit were to match, that would be called a “ditto.”
We might call Harold’s clothing “rakish,” in that it deviates from formality and convention but is nevertheless eye-catching. We might call him “modish” (originally from the French’ mode’, and meaning fashionable or stylish). We might use the phrase “fid-fad” to indicate his outfit is frivolous in the face of typical conventional dress of the day. But others would call him dapper, a word originally denoting a lively step, quick, strong, and also possibly heavy and stout. The word had come to mean “neat and trim in appearance” by the time we see Harold walking down the cobblestones, stepping lively to keep up with his firm-minded, extravagant spouse.
(This is the second in a series of character sketches, placing the people of the series Steam Geared in their Victorian milieu of approximately 1888. )